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"Mommy Brain"...not what we thought it was

I just saw this on the news this morning,. The local morning show on Fox ran a short blurb about this research that was done back in 2010. The story was so short that I couldn't even find it on their website later. The research that was conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) a couple of years ago, was by no means an iron-clad scientific study. The study group was very small, only 19 women, so that in itself makes the results inconclusive because the group was so small. BUT those results did yield something interesting, and it does need more research. So the NIH took a group of pregnant women, 10 of which gave birth to boys, and 9 to girls. They performed two high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging on the women's brains, a baseline at 2-4 weeks postpartum and a follow-up at 2-4 months after having their baby. The comparison images showed a very slight increase in grey matter volume in various parts of the brain. Even though it was such a slight increase, this was significant to the researchers because adults do not normally have any change in grey matter volume in such a short amount of time. The event of having their baby and the hormones and emotions felt afterward apparently was a significant enough to increase the grey matter in four sections of their brains: the hypothalamus which supports maternal motivation, the area for reward and emotion processing, the area for sensory integration and the area for reasoning and judgement. The mothers that reportedly had the biggest brain growth werer the ones that rated a higher satisfaction with being mothers, said that their babies were happy, perfect and ideal. Basically bonded much deeper with their babies than the other mothers in the study who did not have as much growth. Since hormones are mainly responsible for how much we bond with our babies after birth, especially the hormone oxytocin, with is also responsible for starting and continuing contractions during labor, researcher wonder if these mothers that bonded more with their babies, and that had more growth in their brains had higher levels of oxytocin during labor. What the study does not say is whether the births were all natural, without an epidural, or if they were mixed. That is my big question. If epidurals were used, mom does not get the benefits of oxytocin, and I am not implying that they will not bond with their babies if they have an epidural. I had three babies with some sort of medicinal pain relief and I bonded just fine with those babies, not any less than the two babies that I had naturally. My point is that if an epidural is used, the body's natural production of oxytocin is slowed down, because more oxytocin is produced when we feel pain. If we do not feel any pain, the body stops producing it. That is the reason why when a woman gets an epidural, pitocin, the synthetic form of oxytocin, is the next drug to be administered. Labor has to be artificially continued. The problem with pitocin, is that it is not just like oxytocin. The main difference is that it is injected into the blood stream, and can not cross the blood-brain barrier. Oxytocin is released in the brain, and then goes into the blood stream. By the end of labor when the body's oxytocin levels are at the highest, the brain is also bathed in oxytocin. It is responsible for the 'trance-like' state that women enter, often called 'labor-land' towards the end of labor. It's also where the euphoric feeling that women sometimes report having after birth comes from, oxytocin. The key part of this is that the brain gets exposed to it in a natural labor. In a pitocin induced labor, this does not happen. The reason why I decided to write about this today is because of the reaction of the reporter as she was talking about the results. She said that the women who bonded more not only had more brain growth but had a lower incidence of postpartum depression. So the reporter continued to say, misinformed though she was, that it would be interesting to see if giving pitocin and maybe other maternal hormones after birth would change things -for the better obviously- and promote more bonding and possibly in turn less PPD and more brain growth as a plus. The reporter obviously didnot do all of her homework. Just administering pitocin, or any other synthetic hormone, would not have the same effects. It would not cross the blood-brain barrier. I think the answer is just to promote more natural births so mom and baby has the wonderful effects of these hormones. Hmmm...maybe I need to go into more detail about all of that. Next post! Here is an article about the the original study back in 2010:

#pregnancy #mommybrain #bonding #postpartum

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